Politics & Policy

Liberal Bullies Threaten Free Speech

(Stock image: Wavebreakmedia/Dreamstime)
A Georgetown professor provides the latest example.

In the months leading up to and immediately after the election of Donald Trump, one could honestly observe that the Left has never been more fair — or, more accurately, more “Fair.”

The “Fair” referred to in this instance is Georgetown professor Christine Fair, who this week is being hailed in many quarters for confronting notorious “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer in a D.C.-area gym last weekend where he was working out alone.

According to Fair’s account in the Washington Post, she walked up to Spencer and accosted him, saying, inter alia, “I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable.” When a woman who witnessed Fair’s challenge attempted to step in and stop her from verbally abusing Spencer, she told her, “You’re actually enabling a real-life Nazi.” (For the record, Spencer denies that he is a Nazi and refers to himself as an “identitarian.”) The general manager approached Fair and asked her to leave in response to her tirade. Afterward, when Spencer’s identity was revealed, his gym membership was revoked — while Fair, who even by her own account was harassing Spencer, went unpunished. (One should note that Christian bakers are not allowed to be so choosy about the clientele of their establishments.)

Let’s stipulate that Richard Spencer is a man who has embraced values that are anathema to America’s, and that his vision is quite obviously not one that conservatives or Republicans share. But Fair publicly claims that Spencer’s very presence in the gym, because of his political views, creates an oppressive environment, which is a much more dramatic and potentially dangerous claim. If you are still cheering on Professor Fair, consider the case of another Spencer — Robert Spencer (no relation to Richard), a persistent critic of political Islam and a favorite of Steve Bannon and other figures in the Trump administration. 

After he spoke to a large audience last week in Reykjavik, Iceland, a leftist approached him as he was dining with companions and managed to slip a combination of MDMA (“Ecstasy”) and Ritalin into his drink, causing him to become ill to the point that he was hospitalized. Fortunately, police seem to have identified the perpetrator. But despite Spencer’s relative prominence and the dramatic nature of the crime, this political poisoning attracted almost no attention from the mainstream media.

As Spencer put it ruefully, “The lesson I learned was that media demonization of those who dissent from the leftist line is a direct incitement to violence. By portraying me and others who raise legitimate questions about jihad terror and Sharia oppression as racist, bigoted ‘Islamophobes’ without allowing us a fair hearing, they paint a huge target on the backs of those who dare to dissent.”

Spencer, the author of two New York Times bestsellers on radical Islam, is certainly controversial — and has his fair share of critics even on the right. But one should be able to be controversial without being poisoned. In the wake of the bombings in Manchester, are critics of political Islam really the people who should be beyond the pale of civil discourse?

What does all this have to do with Professor Fair? Well, it turns out that Robert Spencer too has had his share of run-ins with Professor Fair, who according to Spencer called him a “lunatic” and likened him to Charles Manson while “refusing (of course) to debate me on questions of substance.” Robert Spencer says he has never met Fair in person, which has not saved him from being a repeated target of Fair’s ire.

Very well, you may say, but Spencer’s harsh and cherry-picked criticism of Islam may have stirred up legitimate anger — there’s no reason to defend him.

If the Right decides it’s okay to attack Richard Spencer, they should not expect that the punchers will stop at Richard Spencer

Well, how about Asra Nomani, a liberal Muslim immigrant woman, former Wall Street Journal reporter, and Georgetown professor who committed the mortal sin (to Christine Fair) of voting for Donald Trump and then writing a piece in the Washington Post explaining her decision. In response, she was brutally harassed by Professor Fair on Twitter for the better part of a month. As Nomani subsequently wrote to Georgetown in a formal complaint against Fair: “Prof. Fair has directed hateful, vulgar and disrespectful messages to me, including the allegations that I am: a ‘fraud’; ‘fame-mongering clown show’; and a ‘bevkuf,’ or ‘idiot,’ in my native Urdu, who has ‘pimped herself out’ . . . this last allegation amounts to ‘slut-shaming.’”

But while a quick perusal of Fair’s public statements reveals her to be an extreme case,  a virtual parody of liberal intolerance, she is hardly the only liberal behaving badly. In just the past year, many conservatives, libertarians, and other assorted right-wingers, from Ann Coulter to Charles Murray to Heather Mac Donald to Milo Yiannopoulos to Ben Shapiro, have been shouted down and prevented, often by violence, from sharing their views, most often on America’s campuses. And so far, almost without exception, those universities have declined to give any significant punishment to the perpetrators.

It is all well and good for conservatives to point out that there is a yawning gap between the Richard Spencers of the world and the Charles Murrays and Heather Mac Donalds. But for the Christine Fairs of the world — and an increasing number of her ideological soulmates on the left — they are all the same. None should have the right to speak — and increasingly, they are not even free to lead private lives free of harassment and threats. All of the people named above have been called “Nazis,” “white supremacists,” and similar epithets. If the Right, through silence, decides it’s okay to harass or physically attack Richard Spencer because he is a “Nazi” (a video clip of an Antifa member sucker-punching Spencer has become a favorite Internet meme on the left), they should not expect that the punchers will stop at Richard Spencer — or Robert Spencer, or even Asra Nomani. If we won’t fight for the free speech of those who anger the Left, no matter how distasteful we find their views, because we are afraid that the Left will wrongly ascribe their views to us, then conservatives are little more than feeding red meat to the ravenous left-wing lion in vain hopes that they will be the last ones eaten. And the lion is getting stronger and hungrier.

In his comments on Fair, written long before his poisoning incident, Robert Spencer wondered, “Why are the loudest proponents of ‘tolerance’ and ‘peace’ so frequently ugly, hateful people?”

It’s a question the Left doesn’t want to answer — and too many on the right, afraid of being labeled as bigots by the most intolerant voices on the left, are scared to even ask.

READ MORE:

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Free Speech & Campus Censorship

The Government Can’t Punish You for Offensive Speech, but Your Boss Can Fire You

— Jeremy Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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